In the West we have what is called a teleological view of history. That means that the scope of human civilization and events, from its earliest time till now, is actually going someplace. Whether that place is Ragnarok, Armageddon, the New Jerusalem, or an alien apocalypse depends on which worldview you're espousing, but it's hard for people with European heritage to think in terms of the circularity of history, or that history is going nowhere, just on an on and on into the infinite future.
As Christians, we believe history is on its way to Christ. That may be a little simplistic, but ultimately God has ordered and guided history according to His will for it, and its completion is entirely in His hands....but only after the intended progression of events has been completed. If this is true, history can be seen, not merely as endless repetition, but as a line drawn between point A and some as yet indistinguishable (from a human perspective) point B.
The literature of any period, therefore, can only be understood by the particular historical stage and cultural context in which it was written. If history isn't stagnant, literature can't be either, and any writer is going to reflect (consciously or unconsciously) the attitudes prevalent around him. If you didn't know Cervantes was mocking the "courtly love" and chivalric ideals of Medieval Europe, Don Quixote wouldn't make near as much sense. A lot of Shakespeare's references are to cultural customs he witnessed. Charles Dickens includes so many scenes of social injustice because the England of his day was rife with oppression and mistreatment.
This intersection of history and literature isn't one-directional. To really understand history, it's essential to read the literature of the day. Sure, a history book published last year about the Roman Empire might yield plenty of good information, but reading Caesar's Gallic Wars will not only offer a firsthand perspective, it will also reveal a lot of contemporary attitudes most historians find it difficult to capture. A list of similar examples would require several books, and believe me, they exist.
We've chosen specific periods as categories both to reflect the generally accepted important literary and historical epochs, and based on how many books from each period we carry. If your favorite period isn't immediately recognizable on the list, you might just have to look a little deeper—for instance, we don't have a category for books written in China during the Boxer Rebellion, but that doesn't mean we don't have books that meet that criteria. Okay, we don't, but we have plenty of other titles representing the full scope of literary history from the ancients to the postmodern age.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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